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Design of the Fort

Olano's design was for a simple structure. Its main strength would be the artillery and its strategic location. A solid base would elevate the fort's guns high above the ground, and from the tower soldiers would be able to see over the barrier island to spot ships heading toward St. Augustine. They could also fire on ships trying to blockade the inlet as well as those attempting to enter the Matanzas River.

The fort was built of coquina stone quarried at El Penon quarry south of the inlet and was covered inside and out with white lime plaster. The tower and scarp cordons were painted red, a color that was achieved by mixing Georgia clay into the white plaster. Construction was completed in the winter of 1742.

Foundations and Gundeck

Archaeological work has determined that the fort's foundation is of pine logs driven into the ground and capped with a grill work of square pine timbers upon which a footing of oyster shell was laid. On this base the masonry structure was built.

The size of the base is 49.5 feet on each side at the ground. This works out to exactly 18 Spanish varas of 33" each. The center is filled with sand and mud. The surface of the gun deck, eleven feet above the ground, is tabby, a concrete made of oyster shell lime, sand, water and a shell filler. A timber floor was built on top of this surface as a base for the cannon.

The east and west parapets of the gun deck are four feet tall with an embrasure on each side for the entrance ladder or cannon. The south parapet was only three feet high. While it afforded the soldiers great versatility in aiming and servicing the cannons, it offered them little protection. However, since the cannons' range was so much longer than any gun used by a possible attacker, protection was not critical.

Five cannons once guarded the three approaching directions. Each cannon could easily reach the inlet, then only a half-mile away. The two 8-pounder cannon currently on the gun deck were cast in Spain in the 1750s and emplaced at Matanzas in 1793, during the Second Spanish Period. They were left behind when the Spanish turned Florida over to the United States in 1821. The other two 6-pounder cannon are modern replicas cast especially for the park's black powder program.

In the gun deck's southwest corner stands a garita (sentry box) with loopholes

Exploded view of Fort Matanzass

enabling a sentry to see to the south and west, outside and along the walls. Entry to the fort was by a ladder, lowered down from the embrasure in the west parapet and pulled up at night.

Just outside the door to the tower and built into the floor of the gun deck is a bottle-shaped, brick-tiled, water cistern, thirteen feet tall and ten feet in diameter. Rainwater falling on the observation deck was channeled through drain pipes into the cistern. Access to the water was by rope and bucket, although by the second Spanish period a small hand pump was added. This was the only source of fresh water there in the salt marsh.


The tower rising from the north half of the base housed the soldiers and their supplies. The en-listed men lived on the gun deck level, the officer in the apartment above.

The lower room has wooden beams and vaulting which supports the floor above. A door opens onto the gun deck. There are two windows and two loopholes in the south wall and one window in the north wall. The windows had shutters to keep out rain and the damp chill of winter winds.

On the east side of the room is a fireplace for cooking, heat, and light. A single bunk, large enough for five or six mattresses, was in the northwest corner of the room. A table and benches in front of the fireplace completed the simple furnishings. Extra clothing and tools necessary for servicing the cannons were also housed in this room.

An exterior staircase leads from the gun deck to the second floor quarters. This room has an arched ceiling running east to west. In this room was a bed and a desk for the officer, space for storing food and other supplies. A ladder leads up to the observation deck on the tower roof.

Officers Room

On the west side of the officer's room is the entrance hole to the cylindrical powder magazine built inside the wall and extending down to the level of the gun deck, protecting the dangerous powder from open flame and sparks. When the fort was in use, a ladder enabled the soldiers to climb down into the dark chamber to bring up powder kegs. Outside this hole, a stone wall and oak door (no longer extant) offered protection in the event of an explosion in the magazine. Food supplies were stored in the area behind the wall. This wall has been reconstructed and no longer extends to the ceiling.

The officer's quarters also has a window in the north wall. It and three loopholes in the south wall allow for ventilation, light and firing of muskets at attackers. Sitting at his desk or lying in bed, the officer probably appreciated the sea breeze which cooled the summer day and kept down the gnats and mosquitoes.

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